New Documentary, Sisters with Transistors, Tells Story Of Electronic Music’s Female Pioneers

Sisters With Transistors – a new documentary about electronic music’s female pioneers – is now available to view via on-demand streaming.

The film tells the history of electronic music through the stories of visionary women whose work with machines redefined the boundaries of music, including: Clara Rockmore, Daphne Oram, Bebe Barron, Pauline Oliveros, Delia Derbyshire, Maryanne Amacher, Eliane Radigue, Suzanne Ciani and Laurie Spiegel.

“We women were especially drawn to electronic music when the possibility of a woman composing was in itself controversial,” notes Spiegel. “Electronics let us make music that could be heard by others, without having to be taken seriously by the male-dominated Establishment.”

Narrated by electronic music pioneer Laurie Anderson, the film positions the story of women in electronic music in the context of the wider social, political and cultural context of the 20th century.

The film is written and directed by Lisa Rovner.

See the film site for information on screenings and on-demand viewing.

39 thoughts on “New Documentary, Sisters with Transistors, Tells Story Of Electronic Music’s Female Pioneers

  1. 70/80’s Columbia n Nonsuch labels carried a lot of this awesome art….I’ve got a good slice of all this and listen to it frequently…’s gorgeous and so fragile as art is….

      1. Wendy likes her private life, usually she never talks about that, I don’t blame her for that, I think it’s classy. 🙂
        Imagine all the questions you get are about your sexual identity and your sexchange and they don’t want to talk about your work. Pff, I would say no thanks too.
        But what kind of documentation about female pioneers in electronic music is this supposed to be if you leave her out.
        Here are the less known female pioneers that did not sell a ton of records? ^^

      1. she’s missing on this trailer and that list so i figure she is not, also rachel elkind is not on the list who help composed “the shining” and worked with wendy’s “switched on bach”

  2. For the US it looks like the only way to watch it is to subscribe to “Metrograph” — no way to do a plain old VOD rental.

    I could subscribe for 1 month for $5, watch it, then cancel. But I’m not going to do that. I think it’s obnoxious to make it that complicated to watch a movie.

    Maybe I’ll get to see it if it goes to regular VOD streaming or to one of the streaming services.

    1. It’s incredibly boring the way everything has to be turned into a display of wokemanship. Crikey this is a film about Women, it’s not a census, it doesn’t need the exact percentage of every conceivable variation on gender. I wish these complainers would realise they’re only damaging the cause of minority groups by creating extra resentment with their demands and cries.

      1. Not to mention taking something that looks to be an important and positive piece and making it a target of mocking derision. Sad when people will even attack beauty just to feed their outrage addiction.

  3. she’s missing on this trailer and that list so i figure she is not, also rachel elkind who help composed the shining and worked with wendy’s switched on bach

  4. I get the feeling that some of the trolls like lala are not synthtopia readers, just jerks dropping in to stir shit up. Maybe to try to make actual socially-conscious people look bad.

    1. I read synthopia daily. The movie script does not mention the Star that is in it.
      In case you didn’t know Wendy is like the mother of everything. 😉
      Now go troll yourself.

      1. ugh the list of women in the trailer are those interviewed, that’s standard in any doco. you can’t interview EVERYONE and not everyone WANTS to be on camera being interviewed. that doesn’t mean they aren’t in the story.

        the fact that there’s this reactionary childish response before even seeing the film, suggests reactionary and childish motives.

        1. I can’t order what’s not on the menu. 😉
          The menu said no Wendy.
          If that doesn’t make you suspicious, I don’t know what does. 😉

          And no the list aren’t the women interviewed either. Half of them are dead.
          In fact everybody is dead except Eliane Radigue, Suzanne Ciani and Laurie Spiegel and the not mentioned Wendy Carlos and Laurie Anderson.
          So my reaction is neither reactionary, lol, or childish.
          It’s a shitty abstract of a mildly interesting and incomplete doku and I have probably seen the bits and pieces of interest to me already.

  5. I’ve actually seen the movie and was also able to take part in a 2 hour Q&A with the director. She has addressed these criticisms already. However, for those who seem to need more, here’s a quote from a recent interview.

    “Something I thought was interesting, and I know you said the archive really dictated the form of the movie, is how short the section is on Wendy Carlos. The film kind of creates this juxtaposition between Switched-On Bach and then you go right into that quote from Suzanne Ciani about that album being retroactive. I was curious why Carlos’s section was shorter than the other artists, was it an issue of the archive?

    I reached out to Wendy at the beginning of the film process and Suzanne knows her very well and Laurie. We really wanted her to be part of the film, but she didn’t want to do an interview with me. And it was quite clear, from what I gather, that she just would rather not be in the film. I did find that archive of Wendy really enlightening, because what it means to me is that Switched-On Bach was this moment when all of a sudden electronic music became pop and became just as popular as the Beatles. That album is so important in the history of electronic music.

    And I totally get the juxtaposition and personally I think it’s being misinterpreted as a kind of diss when that was not at all the point. It’s actually quite interesting because most of the people I interviewed in the film from that time talk about that album as being problematic for electronic music in general, because all of a sudden that became what people wanted when they were asking for electronic music. So I feel really bad about how people are interpreting that, it was not at all in any way meant to be like an attack. I just thought it was really one of the most interesting things that kind of kept coming up, and I felt like it was an important thing to talk about.”

    I imagine it’s difficult to be the first person to tackle a topic like this in this capacity. There’s no way she’ll be able to please everyone. She’s gone out of her way to say that this isn’t the definitive history, but a history.

    1. Thanks!

      It’s great to see someone with actual knowledge share it.

      Wendy Carlos has avoided interviews and publicity for decades, because she learned the hard way that people are fixated on her gender identity to the point that it overshadows her work.

      Even favorable coverage of Carlos tends to be asinine – see Vice’s “Meet Wendy Carlos: The Trans Godmother of Electronic Music”.

      Anybody that disses this film because it doesn’t have a new interview with Wendy Carlos is advertising their ignorance – of Carlos, of electronic music history and of the way small-minded people screw up the world for people that are different.

      1. That’s exactly why she doesn’t give interviews.
        Meet the transsexual grandma of Electronic Music.
        As gender is obviously a topic in a docu called „sisters with transistors“ she refused.
        It seems like no one is and was willing to do a documentation about THE MUSIC of Wendy Carlos, there won’t be one. On top of that mostly all of her work you can only get second hand because it’s not rereleased. To bad for the younger generations, they have no idea what they are missing.
        What a lame docu because they failed to approach her the right way. 😉

        1. It sounds like you’re cutting off your nose to spite your face.

          Carlos has not given new interviews, to anybody, for any reason, for close to 20 years. And it was rare before that.

          It’s not because she hasn’t been approached by lots of people, it’s because she has no interest in doing them and doesn’t give them the time of day.

          Criticizing the movie or the recent book on Carlos for not including new interviews is just expressing ignorance of reality.

          Most of us will want to appreciate this movie for what the director has accomplished, instead of criticizing her for not doing the impossible.

          1. Oh that Book
            In her own words

            Bogus “Bio” Alert
            Please be aware there’s a purported “Biography” on me just released. It belongs on the fiction shelf. No one ever interviewed me, nor anyone I know. There’s zero fact-checking. Don’t recognize myself anywhere in there—weird. Sloppy, dull and dubious, it’s hardly an objective academic study as it pretends to be.
            This slim, mean-sprited volume is based on several false premises. All of it is speculation taken out of context. The key sources are other people’s write-ups of interviews done for magazine articles. There’s simply no way to know what’s true or not—nothing is first-hand.
            The book is presumptuous. Pathetically, it accepts as “factual” a grab-bag of online urban legends, including anonymous axes to grind. The author imputes things she doesn’t understand, misses the real reasons for what was done or not done. She’s in way over her head, outside any areas of expertise, and even defames my dear deceased parents—shame!
            Well, now you know, and have the victim’s honest reactions. Wish there were more one could do about needless personal attacks, but we have to understand how essential freedom of speech is, even when it permits such abuse. Have dealt with stereotyping most of my life, a pretty tough hide by now. But aren’t there new, more interesting targets?
            Unless you consider “academic” books a form of contact sport, you really might want to reconsider your time and money. —Wendy Carlos, August 2020.

            1. Are you really criticizing a biography because the subject didn’t like it?

              Biographies are judged by their merits at illuminating the subject, not by whether the subject likes the book, approves of it or wanted to participate.

              You’re confusing biography with autobiography.

              1. Are you confusing a biography with a made up story based around little facts, urban legends and false assumptions of the author ? 😉

        2. If you’re so concerned with transgender representation why do you keep using the outdated term “transsexual”? Wendy isn’t from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. None of your criticisms make any sense. You are just trolling. This is a good doc.

          1. Transgender, transsexual, transidentity; 3 words for the same thing.
            Kids these days prefer transgender.

            Obviously I am not the only one who has questions about why Wendy Carlos isn’t even in the abstract of the movie.

            So you think I’m trolling because I don’t agree with your opinions. Gee. Online Kindergarten here again.

    2. I guess Clara Rockmore is dead, and still she´s fully featured in the film… So if Wendy didn´t want to give interviews she should be fully featured as well.

      1. I think they were just respecting her wishes. “she didn’t want to do an interview with me. And it was quite clear, from what I gather, that she just would rather not be in the film.”

        If I understand Carlos rightly, she’d rather not be forever associated with gender issues, and this is a film about gender.

    1. That is the “All Lives Matter” argument and also does not hold water. Are you intentionally being abrasive or are you just thick?

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